MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVI No. 1
September / October 2013
Not Blameless, But Not to Blame
Report to the President, MIT and the Prosecution of Aaron Swartz
Regretted Omission
Newsletter Editorial Board Elections
Initial Thoughts
The MIT Physics Department's
Experience with edX
My Experience Teaching 3.091x
Pauline Maier
Students and Institute Governance
Creating a Culture of Caring: MIT's First Institute Community and Equity Officer
Resolution for Presentation to the MIT Faculty: "Establish a Campus Planning Committee"
The HASS Exploration (HEX) Program
Request for Preliminary Proposals
for Innovative Projects
Nominate a Colleague for the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Disturbed by Abelson Report
Praising America's Public Libraries
Class of 2017 Enrolled Students: Admissions Statistics
U.S. News & World Report: Ranking the Top 10 Engineering Graduate Schools
U.S. News & World Report: Ranking the Top 10 Business Graduate Schools
Printable Version

Beyond the Classroom

Students and Institute Governance

Robert Redwine

Having been on the MIT faculty since 1979, I have noted that a topic that comes up frequently in faculty-student interactions outside the classroom is the issue of Institute governance. This can be a contentious topic to say the least. The typical situation involves student unhappiness that they were not included more in discussions leading to decisions that affect them. The typical faculty reaction is puzzlement that the students think they should be included to the extent they do; after all, we have been in their position and our stake in the Institute involves a 40-50 year timeframe, not four years. We sometimes forget that when we were in their position we probably felt the same way they do.

I certainly do not have a magic solution to this situation, and we are likely to continue to see disagreements of this nature appear from time to time. However, I thought it might be of interest to describe some very positive involvements of students in matters of Institute governance that I have been fortunate to experience. I served as Dean for Undergraduate Education from 2000 to 2006 and as Chair of the Committee on Discipline (COD) from 2010 to 2012. In both of those roles I had many interactions with students, especially those who chose to be involved with Institute governance.

Not surprisingly, the Dean for Undergraduate Education interacts on a regular basis with representatives of the Undergraduate Association. I have always found these students to be remarkably dedicated and thoughtful. They are very proud of MIT and the education they are receiving, but they also want to do whatever they can to make it even better. They often spend a lot of their (precious) time working with faculty and staff to improve MIT education. An important example was the work of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons, an effort started while I was Dean. We included students on the Task Force and the perspectives they brought to the discussions were invaluable. All of the faculty members on the Task Force gained important insights from the student representatives.

The Committee on Discipline (COD) at MIT considers serious cases of alleged misconduct by students; some cases involve academic misconduct and other cases involve personal misconduct of a non-academic nature. These cases can be very complicated and often are quite painful.

MIT is distinguished from many of our peers by the fact that we have long included students (both undergraduate and graduate) on the Committee on Discipline, along with faculty and staff. In my experience the inclusion of students on COD panels provides an extremely important perspective that almost always leads to a better decision.

It is also the case that the student members obviously take their responsibilities on COD very seriously and try as hard as anyone to understand these complicated situations. I have gained enormous respect for the thoughtful contributions of students to COD decisions and for the individuals who provided them.

Apparently a major reason why some of our peers do not include students on discipline bodies is worry about confidentiality. I was actually stunned a few years ago to hear this from a colleague at a peer institution, because in my experience we have had no reason for concern in this regard. As I indicated above, our students take their responsibilities very seriously and they greatly improve the COD process.

Institute governance involves various components, and I am happy to say that our students make important contributions to many of them. I have been fortunate to have my professional life enhanced by many of these interactions with students. Having the opportunity to teach and interact with such amazing students is one of the chief attractions that bring faculty to MIT. I believe that we as faculty members should be very proud of the students who contribute so much to Institute governance.

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